Premier League 2010-11 Preview: Blackburn Rovers, And The Ongoing Faustian Bargain

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: Steven D'Zonzi of Rovers passes during the pre-season friendly match between Sydney FC and Blackburn Rovers at the Sydney Football Stadium on July 31, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Big Sam Allardyce steered Blackburn to tenth place, but without summer reinforcements, the Rovers could find life more difficult is the bottom-half of the Premier League improves. SB Nation Soccer editor Richard Farley looks at Blackburn's 2010-11 prognosis.

This was mentioned in the first article of the week, a "where we left off" piece that described the tenuous relationship between Blackburn Rovers supporters and their manager, Sam Allardyce.  Allardyce's record at Bolton - an eight-year tenure that saw the team promoted, make Europe, and make it to a cup final - showed a manager that could have success at Blackburn, but when Allardyce was in contention (two years ago) for the job after Mark Hughes left for City, Rovers supporters let their feelings be known.  Blackburn had played positive football under Hughes, and the supporters wanted nothing to do with Allardyce's cynical approach.

Enter Paul Ince, bringing with him a relegation threat, and supporters provided less resistance when Allardyce was brought-in early in 2008-09.  While Ince's tactics at MK Dons showed a progressive approach (even more ambitious than Hughes's, a former teammate at Manchester United), they also made Blackburn the worst team in the league.  There's only so progressive you can be when you're plucking Keith Andrews from League Two an dropping him in your midfield. 

Allardyce was more practical. He saw the liked of Christopher Samba and Jason Roberts in the squad and brought back a a more physical game. He made Blackburn more cynical in both how they stood-up to opponents and how they launched into attack, going as far as to put central defender Samba in a striker's role, seemingly with the intent of running-over the opposition. And he made them better. Blackburn survived in 2008-09 and last year, Big Sam's first full season in Ewood Park, Blackburn finished tenth.

Along the way, Allardyce came under criticism for his style. He was remains the English press's ready exemplar of unimaginative tactics. He had a prolonged, mid-season quarrel with Rafa Benítez, who was critical of Blackburn's physical play.  There's a relativism to Benítez - himself a bastion of (a different kind of) tactical cynicism - criticizing your style that should give pause.

To his credit, Allardyce is unapologetic. He knows what he is: a successful Premier League manager and man whose only stretch of losing football was a 24-match swath with Newcastle. He is not only unlikely to change, he has little reason to.

And for Rovers supporters, it's just as well. Moving from a team that had challenged to Europe to one that was relegation-bound sent a pale fear through their ranks. Having stared the Championship in the face, Rovers supporters saw there are worse things than Sam Allardyce.

The Cast

Major Comings:  None.  Some players (Nikola Kalinic) had loan deals made permanent, but there were no major additions to the team.

Significant Goings:  Potentially Jason Roberts, but as of right now, none.

Still There:  Paul Robinson will be in goal, with Samba and Ryan Nelson, Gaël Givet and Pascal Chimbonda the likely backline.  Steve Nzonzi's developing into a hammer in midfield, where he'll be joined by Morten Gamst Pederson, David Dunn and Keith Andrews.  El Hadji Diouf will bridge the gap to presumably Nikola Kalinic (assuming  Roberts leaves).  Throw-in some help from Martin Olsson, Phil Jones, Michel Salgado and Brett Emerton, and Blackburn looks near-identical to last year.

Prognosis

Rk Club Avg W D L GF GA 1st Top 4 Top 7 Relegated Best Worst Range*
16 Blackburn Rovers 14.6 11.9 7.5 18.6 44.4 65.0 0.0% 0.0% 1.2% 22.3% 4 20 8-19

Why:  The projection has Blackburn falling six spots not because they're a worse team; rather, they're failing to keep-up. Last year, the bottom half of the Premier League was weak, and a number of clubs stand to improve.  Blackburn is not one of them. There's still no indication of where the goals are going to come from, and unless Phil Jones is both as good as some advertised and convincing enough to have Allardyce break up his defense, there isn't much room to improve on goal prevention.

Best Case Scenario: Nikola Kalinic is a double-digit scorer, El-Hadji Diouf provides dynamism and David Dunn scores nine goals again. The rest of the league fails to improve, and Blackburn move-ups a couple of spots.

Nightmare: The attack is so ineffectual that a stout if stoic defense is a sitting duck. Players become disillusioned when the stylistic sacrifice does not leading to results, and Allardyce loses the team. Blackburn's in a year-long relegation battle which they ultimately lose.

Most Likely:  It's a frustrating year for Rovers supporters, seeing their club take a step back, but they stay-up, with the club given a summer to evaluate what type of team that want to be. If the bottom of the Premier League is going to start improving, pragmatism may not be enough.

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